Is Communiversity growing too big for Princeton? Is its scheduling this year on a Sunday part of a trend to have events on what was once a “day of rest” and churchgoing?
These were the questions hovering over a brief discussion of the annual free Town and Gown arts festival, which attracted between 35,000 and 40,000 residents and visitors to downtown Princeton on Sunday, April 27.
The discussion was initiated by former Mayor Jim Floyd when he spoke during the public comment period of Monday’s Princeton Council meeting. “Yesterday was a nightmare,” he said, referring to Communiversity’s impact on members of the African American community intent on attending church Sunday. “Our church members had no place to park,” he said, referring to one of the four black churches serving the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood. “I want to know who is responsible for deciding when Communiversity takes place,” said Mr. Floyd.
Mayor Liz Lempert explained that the event was a collaboration between the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP), Princeton University and the municipality. “I know that,” said Mr. Floyd. “What I want to know is, who is responsible for approving the date; who has the ultimate power to set the date for Communiversity?”
Ms. Lempert described a decision process involving the ACP, the University and the municipality that takes into account inconveniences to merchants if a Saturday is chosen for the event and to churches if a Sunday is chosen.
Town Administrator Bob Bruschi weighed in with remarks that the municipality provided policing and that there were ways in which it could exercise authority over the event but that this was not the way things were usually done.
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller conceded that the Council had the ultimate power as regards the date. Describing the event, with respect to parking, as “worse this year and might even be worse next year,” she suggested that the municipality should hear from the organizers of next year’s event earlier in the year.
Council President Bernie Miller noted that Communiversity was not the only event taking place last Sunday. An afternoon performance at McCarter had contributed to traffic problems. “Careful consideration must be given before we approve the next event,” he said, adding that it was a “grand event” but that it had the potential to “turn into a nightmare.”
Councilman Lance Liverman asked whether there was a trend developing to have events on Sundays. He, too, reported that several people he knew of had been unable to attend church that day because of parking problems associated with the influx of crowds to Princeton.
Councilwoman Jo Butler asked if it might be possible to cordon off parking spaces for the sole use of churchgoers, if the event was to be held on a Sunday. “Yes, we could do that,” said Mr. Bruschi, “but we must recognize that this is a popular event spearheaded by lots of non-profits that are growing in size every year.”
Noting that the municipality and the University had formed an agreement (see page 1 story) that included the gift of a parking lot on Franklin Street, Mr. Floyd suggested that this might be made available to a community that had been significantly inconvenienced.